The hobgoblins led the two adventurers to a rude campsite. As they walked, they could see there were few of them unwounded, that supplies were low, and that even the lowest ranked laborers were armed.

Their guide brought them to a rude open hut, below what most would expect from the militaristic hobgoblins. Within was a massive, scarred example of the kind, one arm bound up and splinted as he roared at his underlings. At a glance from one of those, he spun, and his eyes narrowed.

[What are they doing here? Did you bring assassins to me, traitors?] he demanded.

[No, Captain,] the leader of the escort replied, snapping to attention as he stopped his march. [The cultists attacked them as well, and the Cyricists died screaming. I determined they should at least meet you to find out why they are here.]

Herself, Meliantha had also drawn herself to attention. [Captain! I do not wish you to think I am spying on you, but I do speak your language,] she said in a solid parade bark. [We are here investigating the Cyricists, to find what they are doing, and to stop them from completing their mission. I am Meliantha, sent from the army of Cormyr, and this is Caelar Terathian, of the Zhentarim. I am sure you are aware of the distance between our two realms, and that you understand our working together shows how much both realms take this possible threat.]

The hobgoblin captain strode forwards. Even with his injured arm, he maintained a strict military bearing, and showed no pain. He looked her in the eyes, then snorted. [Take them to the slave pen. Bring me their weapons.]

“That did not sound good,” Caelar said under his breath.

Meliantha’s eyes narrowed. [I do not wish to call for kalech-mar,a ritual challenge for combat amongst hobgoblins Captain, but I will if need be to show my seriousness.]

He was impassive for a moment, then smirked. [The female has spirit. Do not take them to the slave pens.] Then he spoke in Common. “I am Captain Barkoth, leader of this camp. What is your trouble with the mad priests?”

“They seek the prison of Eshatamon Druuthforger. We would prefer that the prison remain unfound, or at best sealed.”

The captain frowned, then turned. [Lorespeaker!] he called, and an older hobgoblin, this one wearing some robes and the symbol of the god of the hobgoblins stepped forwards. [Eshatamon Druuthforger. Tell me what you know.]

The lorespeaker frowned thoughtfully, then began to speak. [What little is known was that Eshatamon Druuthforger was created by the illithids from the Shallarbetter known to most as the Dopplegangers, to dominate and control them. It overcame his creators and destroyed them, then began to build an empire. It was defeated and entombed by the Illithyri elves, but it is believed it was not actually slain. It had created multiple servants in its image, and according to some writings – Illithyri, but with some trustworthiness to them – was on the verge of finding a way through stolen power of ascending to the status of a minor god.] He paused, then continued. [To allow that creature to be released would be to bring tremendous danger. It would bring chaos, and no one could be relied on not to be one of its servants.]

[Understood, lorespeaker.] The captain turned back to them. “You can stay here tonight. On the outskirts of the camp.” He smirked again. “I do not think you would appreciate our rations.” Barkoth gesture. “And there will be also those who with to speak with you. The lizardfolk meet with us, both of us displaced.”

Meliantha nodded, then made a complex salute. This time, the smirk became a smile, and it was returned. They both turned, and walked away. The two guards with the adventurers followed them, as an honor guard now.

They put up the tent, and Caelan began putting dinner together. He flavored it with some of the spices he carried with him, and when the stew (dried beef cooked in water, some vegetables, and the spices) was completed, they ate. Meliantha found her attention wandering to watch him eat, remembering the night before. She shook her head slightly, then finished her meal.

They cleaned the bowls, and as they did, there was a clap outside the tent. Caelan rose, and looked out. “My dusk lady,” he said, “I must inform you that we have visitors of the saurian persuasion.”

Meliantha rose, and stepped out. Indeed, a group of lizardfolk stood there. One of them wore a mesh woven of vines, and it bowed.

“i am haaaaksaar,” it said, the voice low and quiet. “i greet you in the name of our tribe. the leader of the others said you come to fight the madpriests.”

“I do,” she said, then introduced herself and Caelan. “We would ask for any help you could give – if your people could guide us to them, that would be a great help.”

“the madpriests have taken our eggs, killed the clutchmother. if you will bring them we will help you.”

“I will bring as I can. I would do so anyway – I know the importance of the eggs to your people.”

“Do you conspire against me?” a voice called out. Captain Barkoth strode forwards, two hobgoblins behind him – the lorespeaker and a large one in armor.

“we seek accord, barkoth,” Haaaaksaar replied. “it seems that we share allies.”

“Tools,” Barkoth corrected. “They are only as useful as they make themselves.” He glared at Caelan. “This one does not look useful at all.”

“He has his uses,” Meliantha assured the hobgoblin. “His masters and mine are usually opposed, but this is one of those times when we find each other useful.”

Both the hobgoblins and the lizardfolk looked dubious.

“one of our scouts will come at sunrise to lead you. if you succeed, excellent. if you do not, we will persevere.” With that, the lizardfolk leader turned and walked away into the swamp.  The hobgoblins watched, then returned to their camp.

“Two groups seeing us as tools for their own needs. Not the best situation,” Caelan opined.

“But not enemies,” she replied. “Which is better than it could be.”

He nodded, thoughtfully. “Well, sunrise will be soon enough. We should rest.”

“True,” Meliantha said, then with uncharacteristic shyness, took his hand and led him back into the tent.

As Meliantha slept, Caelan sat and watched. A cruel smile crossed his face, different from his usual ones. He patted his pouch, reassuring himself.

Ah, my dusk lady, he thought, his own voice inside his head mocking, I’m so glad this new bit of alchemy works so well. You almost believe you love me. Soon enough, you’ll betray all you hold dear for your love of me. And my masters will know all the secrets of Cormyr that you know.

It couldn’t be going better for me.

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